517 Prince Street, Alexandria, Va.

By SueKS
  • INTRODUCTION

    INTRODUCTION
    The town of Alexandria was established in 1749 in a grid plan west of the Potomac River and sold in quarter-block lots. The lot on the northeast corner of Prince and Saint Asaph streets was part of a 1762 expansion. It is the least-altered 18th-century city building. This timeline highlights some events in its history. Source: "Alexandria, Virginia Town Lots 1749-1801," by Constance R. King and Wesley E. Pippenger. Shown: 1748 map of the town by George Washington, Library of Congress
  • Construction begins

    Construction begins
    A timber-frame structure is erected on a stone and brick foundation on the lot. Illustration from "The Eighteenth Century Frame House of Tidewater, Virginia," Charles E. Peterson, editor, 1976.
  • Lots for sale

    Town founder John Alexander offers "several lots, or Half Acres of Land, contiguous to the Town of Alexandria, which are to be leased for Fee of Ground Rent," a practice applied for long-term leases. Source: Alexandria Advertiser newspaper, November 1774.
  • American Revolution begins

    War begins between Great Britain and the American colonies (1775-1783), but "Alexandria never became a battleground in the American War for Independence," said historian William Seale. Murray's building is not affected. Source: "A Guide to Historic Alexandria," William Seale, Second Edition, p. 28.
  • Two more rooms

    Two more rooms
    Murray enlarges house by two rooms in back of original timer frame structure. Drawing by Camille Wells from "Tree-Ring Dating of the Fawcett House Alexandria Virginia," by William Callahan, Edward R. Cook and Camille Wells, February 2003
  • Farmland and more for sale

    Farmland and more for sale
    Murray tries to sell 640 acres of land in Hampshire County, Va., (now West Virginia) on the Capecapon River with game, "two hundred acres of which are well calculated for meadow...and in good order for corn, hemp, or tobacco..." with dwelling-house, new barn and orchard. Also: a stone house and other dwelling-house. Source: Alexandria Advertiser newspaper, March 11, 1784. Photo from Creative Commons (no copyright)
  • Murray offers reward for runaway slave

    Murray offers reward for runaway slave
    Murray offers seven-dollar reward for a runaway from Winchester, "a Negro man, named Jack, not very black, about 26 years of age....having drove the Subscriber's wagon for a long time". Alexandria Advertiser newspaper, p. 3
  • Murray opens livery (stable)

    Murray opens livery (stable)
    Murray announces in newspaper ad that he has opened a livery business, a stable "to take in gentleman's horses". Alexandria Advertiser newspaper
  • A growing area

    A growing area
    Alexandria town was incorporated in 1779. By 1791, the Prince Street lot was in the middle of the town. Source: 1791 Dermott map, Library of Congress
  • Losing the property

    Murray operate his stable and sold off pieces of his lot, but defaults on his rent to Alexander's heirs. All "houses buildings garden" are sold at a sheriff's sale for 505 pounds. Source: Fairfax County Deed Book W1:208
  • Elisha Cullen Dick buys house

    Elisha Cullen Dick buys house
    Dr. Elisha Cullen Dick, one of the physicians who attended George Washington at his deathbed, buys property for 1,000 pounds. Illustration by Albert Rosenthal, National Library of Medicine http://ihm.nlm.nih.gov/images/B07124
  • Period: to

    Several owners

    Dick sells the property to merchants John Thomas Ricketts and William Newton in 1794. John Woodrow lives there in 1796. William Smith buys it in 1806.Sources: Alexandria Hustings Court G:39; Alex HC DB G:284; Alex DB N:42
  • Three privies

    Three privies
    By the 1790s, three closets with privies surround a smokehouse and laundry attached to the kitchen with fireplace, perhaps evidence of a commercial operation at some point. Photo by Sue Kovach Shuman
  • The kitchen fireplace

    The kitchen fireplace
    The kitchen with large fireplace is joined to the house sometime in the 1790s. Before that, it may have been separate from and in back of the 1772 wood structure. Some of the original hardware to hang pots is shown here. Photo by Sue Kovach Shuman
  • The house expands again

    The house expands again
    The house expands a third time to include an ell, linking the back kitchen area with the rest of the house. Drawing by Camille Wells from "Tree-Ring Dating of the Fawcett House Alexandria Virginia," by William Callahan, Edward R. Cook and Camille Wells, February 2003
  • Period: to

    Brown family ownership

    Members of the John Douglass Brown family, the Fawcetts and Cheesemans, inherit and reside in the house until 2000. The front door gets moved to the side in the early 1800s, but few other changes are made. Sources: Mutual Assurance Policies No. 1903 (William Smith) dated Dec, 15, 1815 and No. 4974, March 31, 1823 (John D. Brown).
  • John Douglass Brown buys house

    John Douglass Brown buys house
    Merchant John Douglass Brown purchases house. Source: Alexandria Portrait courtesy of Brown family descendants
  • Insurance policy

    Insurance policy
    John Douglass Brown takes out an insurance policy that values a dwelling house, a dwelling house with kitchen, a smokehouse and necessary, and warehouse at $2,200. Mutual Assurance Policy No. 4974.
    https://alexlibraryva.org/custom/web/lhsc/online_exhibits/haid/oldest.html
  • The Brown family

    The Brown family
    John Douglass Brown and his wife Mary Goulding Gretter have five children while on Prince Street. This portrait of them with some of the children hung in the living room. Brown died in 1830. His widow inherited the house. Photo by Sue Kovach Shuman
  • Daughter Ellen inherits house

    The will of Mary G. Brown leaves the house to daughter Ellen D. Brown, listing items that others should inherit. Daughter Jennett would inherit "India China" dinner set, silverware, family portrait, and other items including brass shovel and tongs. Source: Alexandria Deed Book: 6:308.
  • The hunting coat

    The hunting coat
    James Wallace Hooff, husband of John Douglas Brown daughter Jennett, owned this rare camouflage-style hunting jacket. Their descendants donated this and other clothing to The Lyceum, Alexandria’s city museum. The Hooffs lived in the house with their three children. Their daughter Mary Goulding married Edward S. Stabler and inherited the house. Photo by Sue Kovach Shuman
  • The widow's dress

    The widow's dress
    Mary Goulding Hooff Fawcett, daughter of Jennett Brown and James Wallace Hooff, inherits the house. She married Edward S. Fawcett, who died in 1901, and wore black the rest of her life. They had 11 children. This dress was donated by Brown descendants to The Lyceum, the city of Alexandria museum. Photo by Sue Kovach Shuman
  • The quarter-acre lot in 1912

    The quarter-acre lot in 1912
    A Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows the lot and surrounding buildings in the early 20th century. The Second Presbyterian Church Westminster Building at 521-523 Prince St. is located in what is now the garden. See https://www.loc.gov/resource/hhh.va0203.photos and Sanborn maps, Library of Virginia
  • Historical American Buildings Survey

    Historical American Buildings Survey
    Lewis Hooff Fawcett opens his home for the Historical American Buildings Survey. Source: Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?q=Murray-Dick-Fawcett
  • Historical American Buildings Survey update

    Historical American Buildings Survey update
    National Park Service updates house architectural history; everything remains the same as in 1936 HABS.
  • The lot in 1959

    The lot in 1959
    A Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows the lot and surrounding buildings a few years before Alexandria began an urban renewal project that razed many structures around 517 Prince St. Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, Library of Virginia
  • Historic district

    The entire Old Town part of Alexandria is designated a National Historic District. The lot is within the district. Source: https://www.nps.gov/nhl/find/statelists/va/VA.pdf
  • Urban renewal

    The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority acquires some of the land behind the house to build a new courthouse on King Street. Lewis H. Fawcett gains some land on Saint Asaph Street in the process where the Westminster Building had stood from 1800-1910. The lot becomes .3 acres. Source: Alexandria Deed Book 710:70
  • House renamed

    The John Alexander Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, place a historic marker on the house, renaming it the John Douglass Brown House. Source: dedication program, https://alexlibraryva.org/custom/web/lhsc/online_exhibits/haid/oldest.html
  • Brown family sells

    Brown family sells
    After 184 years of family ownership, Brown descendant Richard L. Cheeseman sells the property to C. Joseph Reeder for $850,000. Reeder buys some items in the house, including this punched-tin pie safe in the kitchen. Source: Alexandria Deed Book 150:122. Photo by Sue Kovach Shuman
  • The new kitchen

    The new kitchen
    Owner Reeder works with Franck Lohsen McCrery Architects to add a new kitchen in the style of the old structure, using reclaimed wood. It is joined by a hallway and can be totally removed from the older structure if desired. The project is featured in Clem Labine's Period Homes magazine, November 2005, p. 24. Photo by Sue Kovach Shuman
  • Timbers studied

    Timbers studied
    Owner Reeder commissions a scientific study of wood used in the house (dendrochronology). Report determines that the Virginia Piedmont oak predates Murray's ownership and was cut in 1772. Source: "Tree-Ring Dating of the Fawcett House Alexandria, Va." by William J. Callahan, Edward R. Cook, and Camille Wells, February 2003.
  • Craftsmanship on view

    Craftsmanship on view
    Reeder removes white-painted batterboard from the garden side of the house and discovers the original wood for both the 1772 and 1784 house. Today visitors to the public garden can see how the house was enlarged. Photo by Sue Kovach Shuman
  • A house of many names

    A house of many names
    The house was known as the Fawcett House in 1936. It was renamed for John Douglass Brown in 1976 when a historic maker was placed on it. It also has been called the Fawcett-Reeder House.The Office of Historic Alexandria renamed it the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House after three former owners: Murray, the first; Dick the only famous one; and Fawcett, a Brown descendant. C. Joseph Reeder, the last owner, retained its early-American interior. Photo by Sue Kovach Shuman
  • City of Alexandria buys property

    City of Alexandria buys property
    With funds from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, and owner equity, the city obtains the Murray-Dick-Fawcett house for $1.25 million. The garden is to be used in perpetuity as open space. The house is a future museum. The owner has life tenancy. Photo by the City of Alexandria
  • Under the plaster

    Under the plaster
    A leak from a bathroom over the 1784 addition caused plaster to peel from the ceiling, revealing the construction. Between the narrow joints was horsehair-and-mud filler. The ceiling was repaired. Photo by Sue Kovach Shuman
  • Why the house is significant

    Why the house is significant
    The structure from 1772 to the 1790s exists today as it was then--original floors, walls, doors and more. The house is the least-altered 18th-century building in Alexandria, an example of vernacular architecture. It is a common house made from local materials by local people. This door with original hardware from the 1790s still admits visitors from the side porch. Photo by Sue Kovach Shuman